How to Give a Great Research Presentation

23. October 2014

Andrea Brear

This post is based on content that has already appeared on the Propel Careers website. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

How many times have you sat through a research presentation either nodding off or squinting at an image on the screen? Giving an effective and engaging research presentation requires proper preparation and practice. Realizing that you are the expert on your own research will help you market yourself and your work and convince your audience of the importance of your research.

Have a structure.
Your presentation can be broken down into three basic parts: introduction, results and conclusion. The content and extent of the introduction depends on the composition of your audience. If there are a number of attendees from outside your field, you should include more background to bring everyone up to speed. This is your chance to give some context on the field and how your work fits into it. At the end of this section, clearly state the question you will be addressing throughout the presentation. In the results section, you will provide answers to this overarching question. The conclusion should reiterate the key results and why they are important in order to give the audience members concise and interesting takeaways.

Beautify your slides.
Make your slides as attractive and eye-catching as possible. Use a high-contrast color scheme and make figures, graphs, tables and images as large as the space allows so that people sitting in the back can easily see what’s on the screen. Because the projector may display images differently than your computer screen and because the room may have poor lighting, it's best to prescreen your slides on the projector to make sure the slides are at optimal brightness and contrast. Avoid overwhelming your audience with too much information or boring them with too much text. Try to stick to the "keep it simple" rule when composing a slide: start with a concise title (which should be a statement, not a question,) as little text as possible and a nice diagram or two (no more than three).

Practice your timing.
Take the time to pace your presentation and set up transitions between the slides so that the wording flows nicely. It should sound like a scientific story. One minute per slide is a good general rule for timing, so that you can maintain an engaging pace. Practicing the presentation will help you identify any transitions that need to be smoothed out, as well as determine if the talk is too long or short. In order to make the presentation accessible to a general audience, you should practice it with colleagues in your field as well as colleagues from other subject areas. Be sure to project your voice and speak clearly, and avoid talking too quickly. If you have the opportunity to record yourself, this is a great way to identify ways to improve your delivery—including reducing unnecessary hand/body movements, identifying tics, or excessive use of "um" or "ah."

No matter how much you practice, you can’t anticipate everything. The projector may not work properly, someone's cell phone may ring or the fire alarm may go off. A well-prepared presentation will help you deliver the talk with ease and deal with any unanticipated issues.

Andrea Brear is an intern at Propel Careers. She has her Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from Brandeis University, USA.

 

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Networking through Student Conferences

20. August 2013

Shota Ushiba

We are often told about the importance of networking for furthering our careers. However, it’s not always easy for students to build these relationships, particularly as they are first starting out in their fields. In order to facilitate the creation of useful connections, the Osaka University OSA/SPIE Student Chapter, where I serve as the president, hosted an international student conference. The Asia Student Photonics Conference 2013 took place from 24-26 July at the Photonics Centre in Osaka University, Japan.
 
Organizing Logistics
The conference was financially supported by OSA, SPIE and other organizations. We aimed to build networks among Asian students and young researchers in the fields of optics and photonics, and to learn why networking is important, how we can create networks and what we can do with the networks. We were thrilled that more than 70 students from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, India and Japan attended this year. It was the largest student conference we have ever hosted.
 
Making Connections
We conducted a variety of activities, with invited lecture sessions as a focal point. There were five guest speakers: Satoshi Kawata, Osaka University; Michael Alley, Pennsylvania State University; Prabhat Verma, Osaka University; Rinto Nakahara, President of Nanophoton Corp.and Junichiro Kono, Rice University. The speakers covered relevant career topics, including how to expand your network as a young scientist, how to communicate effectively through writing and presentations, and developing management skills. The speakers gave us clear, pragmatic answers to the issues we faced.
 
We also had student oral and poster presentations, group work, a social excursion and numerous coffee breaks and banquets. There was plenty of time for attendees to talk freely, which enabled us to get to know each other well. We made connections and bridged the cultural gaps between countries. I believe that these new relationships will pave the way for future research collaborations.
 
Becoming a Leader
My personal experience as the conference organizer was particularly enlightening and fulfilling. I arranged everything along with my colleagues, including funds, invited lecturers and student attendees. Students rarely get the opportunity to take on this kind of responsibility; it was great experience and practice for later on in my career. Throughout the three days of activities, we were thanked hundreds of times by the attendees; it was one of the most gratifying experiences that I have ever had. Our conference even inspired some of the student attendees to organize the next student conference, which will make our network wider and stronger. This sense of gratitude and shared responsibility is a great way to build up your community.
 
My work as the organizer of a student conference helped me to develop many abilities that I don’t often get the chance to hone. Although I sometimes struggled from taking on too many duties and had small conflicts with my colleagues over details, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I strongly recommend that you take the initiative to organize a similar event if you have the opportunity. It will broaden your perspective along with your network.
 
Shota Ushiba (ushiba@ap.eng.osaka-u.ac.jp) is a Ph.D. student in the Kawata Lab at Osaka University, Japan, and president of the Osaka Univ. OSA/SPIE Student Chapter. Check out his website or find him on Facebook.

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Making the Right Impression at a Job Fair

26. April 2012

by Frank Kuo

This post is adapted from the CLEO BLOG by Frank Kuo.

Job fairs at technical conferences can be a great way to network and to learn about career opportunities—particularly for those who are interested in pursuing a career in industry. If you are headed to the CLEO:12 conference this year, you can try the online job fair to get a head start. Because some of the employers will not be involved in the online component, walking through the exhibit hall to network will be your next move.

Presenting yourself in the right way to employers at a conference is not always straightforward. For the past few years, I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to look at these job-hunting games from both sides—as a graduate student trying to impress future employers and as an employee actively working in the tradeshow. Here are some tips that I hope will help:

Familiarize yourself with the companies beforehand. Do your homework and learn the histories of your target companies, including their competitors and niche technologies. This is the “appetizer” topic for you to talk about with the people who work on the exhibition hall in your first encounter. If you intrigue them with the right motive, you’ll make an impression that lasts. Besides, by studying the companies, you will find that the photonics industry is an intricate web and that companies are related to each other in a very intimate way.

Set the right goal. Your goal is not to give your resume away. Instead, it should be to build connections and strengthen the existent ones within companies. You can achieve that objective by making a good impression with company representatives, staying in touch with them, and updating them with your research progress. You never know when there will be a vacancy. And believe me, when there is, the first thing hiring managers do is ask their colleagues if they know anyone who is qualified. You want to be the one who comes to mind.

Target those with tech backgrounds. Most of the time, the first person you bump into will be a sales representative, although there’s a chance you will meet technical sales support people, product managers, directors of divisions in the company, CTOs and marketing personnel. If you are a Ph.D. student, try to talk to people who have strong technical backgrounds such that they appreciate your effort. If you are a master’s candidate with a minor or major in marketing, you may find yourself more comfortable talking to product managers.

Of course you cannot tell a person’s job title by face. What happens if you pick the wrong person to talk with? Don’t’ worry; just ask politely for a technical person after a pleasant, warmed up conversation. People who work the floors are nice, and their duty is to help. They will not say no to you.

Never just hand someone your resume and walk away. Wrap your purpose in a delicate way! For example, start the conversation with your interest in the new lasers that the company just released. Ask technical details to show your knowledge. Then, slowly express your expertise in the field, and ask if there are any openings. If there are, try to learn more; if there aren’t, stay motivated and talk about the instruments in further depth.

Avoid rush hours. At almost all conferences, there is a time when no technical sessions are happening. I call it the rush hour. It is true that there will be more representatives working the floor at that time, but there will also be ten times more visitors. So do the math.

Get contact information. Trust me, when you start job hunting, you will need it. Asking for business cards should be a habit if you want a career in industry. You should also stay in touch with the people you meet. Ask them if they are visiting your area, if they plan to release new products and so on. One day, they might be your colleagues.

Job hunting can be overwhelming, but I want to share one of my mottos to encourage you: “When you started your graduate study, you already started your career.” Jobs are just another method we use to achieve our lifelong careers. You might feel desperate during this process, but this is just a short part of your life. Having an idea of your career path is the rudder of your professional life. It keeps you from being lost in the ocean of the diverse jobs. Best of luck!

Frank Kuo (paramountist@gmail.com) is a spectroscopist and optical engineer at Mettler-Toledo International Inc.

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